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Most Active Discussions

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  1. Economic Enlightenment in Relation to College-going, Ideology, and Other Variables: A Zogby Survey of Americans

    • That this “survey” passes for anything other than the ridiculous crock it is is extremely troubling. 8 agree or disagree statements, with and admitted political bias (In what way does asking questions which only challenge liberal mentalities give any kind of a useful result measured against political ideology?). What’s more, all but two of the questions could be correctly answered by simply following the “all government action bad” philosophy.

      Especially troubling are the following two questions: “Third-world workers working for American companies overseas are being exploited,” and “Free trade leads to unemployment.” The first question is WAY too open to interpretation as to the meaning of the word “exploited,” while the second should certainly be qualified by a statement either limiting it to immediate effect (assuming that this does not contribute positively to specialization, allowing new industries to develop which might suck up the surplus), or at least noting noting that it does not refer to a poorer country which signs a free trade agreement with a richer one.

      The two remaining questions, which aren’t simple “government bad” types, aren’t terrible, but any test that you can score highly on with no knowledge other than “biggest market share does not necessarily equal monopoly, government is bad, and stuff is better than it was” can hardly be said to be an indicator of economic knowledge.

      I don’t know if the authors are trying to push a political ideology as grounded in fact (an easy conclusion to reach, given the giddy, masturbatory response the study has had on arch conservative online publications such as “American Spectator”), but this survey should be fully discounted by every respectable publication as the crock it is. This is the first thing I’ve come across on Econ Journal Watch, so maybe it’s a joke publication, but if not, for shame.

    • First comment 10 Jun 2010 by N. Joseph Potts
    • Last comment 16 Nov 2015 by wargames83
  2. Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists

    • McCloskey faults the project of the Enlightenment philosophers, Smith included, for neglecting two of the seven virtues of Thomas Aquinas: hope and faith (though she does claim these were smuggled in through the back door of their philosophies). I must admit to being puzzled about what use a secular moral philosopher should have for either virtue, both of which being explicitly based in religion.

      McCloskey describes hope and faith as two sides of the same coin, the forward-looking imagination and backward-looking imagination, respectively. Without hope, she tells us, there can be no ‘human project.’ Without faith, no ‘human identity.’ They do not, she asserts with no further explanation, ‘have to be theological.’ She implies that without hope as an independent virtue, suicide would be our only recourse, and without faith as an independent virtue, we would forget our identities. She claims that this makes the two virtues intelligible in secular terms, but as I can make no sense of any of it, I have to disagree.

      The ability to carry on projects that will bear fruit in the future does require a kind of simple “hope” that one’s plans will succeed. However, surely if this is all that hope consists of, skepticism must be a coequal virtue, otherwise the wasting of resources on impossible projects would be laudable and proper. And neither hope nor skepticism is an independent virtue, as hope could be described as prudence plus courage in imagination, and skepticism, prudence plus temperance in the same. Indeed, to an atheist, praying for eternal life perfectly fits the idea of “wasting resources on an impossible project.” I can understand hope as an independent virtue only in a specific theological context. The ancient pagan virtue ethicists also distrusted hope as a virtue, pointing out that hope adopted as a stable habit of mind would lead to continual bitter disappointment.

      With regard to faith, to twist it into a secular virtue when its commonplace meaning is the belief in a religion is to do violence to language and reason. McCloskey attempts to describe a physicist’s assumption of the orderliness of the universe as piety and faith (a faith slipped in stealthily whenever an Enlightenment philosopher refers to Nature), but it is nothing of the sort. She uses this poor argument against Rosalind Hursthouse’s reasonable contention that religious piety is “based on a complete illusion” from an atheist’s point of view and then rolls on to blame our uptight refusal to recognize the existence of hope and faith as independent virtues in Western philosophy for the rise of Bolshevism, Hitler, and “all our woe.” Despite violating Godwin’s law here, she declares her position defying two centuries of philosophy evidently correct, and “warmly recommends” her own flavor of non-secular hope and faith.

      McCloskey points out another way God allegedly sneaks in the back door in Smithian moral philosophy: through the idea of an impartial spectator. She claims: “The impartial spectator…is not merely [a behavioral observation] about how people develop ethically. [It is a recommendation.]” This assertion stands in baffling contradiction to much of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which painstakingly describes a positive process of an individual judging the propriety of actions he observes or proposes to undertake with recourse to sympathizing with an imagined impartial spectator. TMS is not a long harangue from “an urbane resident of Edinburgh…hopeful for a rather better society, loving sweetly the imagined result” exhorting its readers to follow a system of virtues. It is principally a description of a positive system of moral philosophy: how we in fact judge the propriety of actions, not how we ought to. Though Smith often lets his values and opinions leak through to color the text, to an extent unfashionable among modern philosophers but charming in this case, the meat of the book is about how humans act, not how Smith believes they should.

    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 14 Nov 2012 by Todd Peckarsky
  3. Mankiw vs. DeLong and Krugman on the CEA’s Real GDP Forecasts in Early 2009: What Might a Time Series Econometrician Have Said?

  4. Religion, Heuristics, and Intergenerational Risk Management

    • Though I disagree with its economic approach, this is a perceptive article. Much of religion is about teaching humility: I am not God. We are not even gods. And, religions say, this is true even if you’re very smart and even if you’re a king. The virtue of humility is express in Christianity, but it’s implicit in a lot of religions. And it enters through Providence—- natural laws and the ordinary workings of the world—- as well as directly. THink of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, (“copybook heading” means a wise, often trite, sentence used for children to practice their handwriting).

    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Tom Garnett
    • Last comment 15 Aug 2015 by G. Ashton
  5. Advanced Placement Economics: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

    • Excellent article. I concur with Paul Johnson. Very sad that AP Economics includes so little real economics and so much of the bogus mechanistic/mathematical type.

    • First comment 25 Jan 2011 by Paul Johnson
    • Last comment 16 Mar 2011 by David B
  6. The Ideological Profile of Harvard University Press: Categorizing 494 Books Published 2000-2010

    • Gordon and Nilsson have attempted a massive review of Harvard University Press books and admit to not carefully reading all 494 of them. I was pleased to see my book, Total Cure: The Antidote to the Healthcare Crisis (2008) made it past their initial screen-out. Their assessment, however, raises some concerns about what must be quick, and in at least one instance superficial, reviews. They categorize my book as “Left” and describe it as “Calls for universal compulsory health coverage that would cover two-thirds of costs. The rest would be dealt with by a voluntary program that would allow free choice of physicians.” That assessment sounds like “Medicare for all with voluntary supplemental coverage.” That is far from what I proposed.

      Even a quick read would indicate that the focus of the book is not on universal compulsory coverage, but rather on changing the medical care delivery system, with a far greater reliance on effective market mechanisms than we have now. While I do believe that universal coverage for major acute and chronic illnesses is critical to avoid gaming and selection, coverage for many things people on the Left feel should be covered is really an equity rather than an efficiency issue. There are better ways to achieve those equity goals.

      I realize that the strict libertarian would argue against any mandated coverage. Until the US citizenry is willing to let people who fail to provide for themselves die on the hospital’s steps, a coverage mandate for major illness is warranted. I raise significant concerns about any major role for government beyond certain minimal things it can do reasonably well. These concerns are problematic for those favoring a single payer solution. I think such an approach would guarantee coverage, but otherwise it would be a disaster.

      My concerns with public solutions arise, however, not from an anti-communitarian perspective, but rather from a recognition that our political system is too responsive to special interests. The appropriate use of market forces (which is quite different from letting existing players exercise their market power) is necessary to overcome that political power.

      Gordon and Nilsson did note that physician choice is critical in my proposal, but this is not as a sop to those who argue for choice in general—as in “free choice of physician” without any responsibility for those choices. Instead, my design uses choice as a core feature allowing individuals (even different members within a family) to choose the style of practice they want, while bearing the full marginal costs implied by their own choices. The plan makes those cost (and quality) implications real and accessible to individuals without unrealistic assumptions about consumer sovereignty and rationality in medical care choices.

      I don’t mind being attacked from both the left and right— that’s usually an honor. If one wishes to critique the literature for an ideological bias, however, it is best to get one’s facts straight.

      (For an example of a review by someone “not on the Left” who read the book more carefully, see this link.)

    • First comment 24 Jan 2011 by Hal Luft
    • Last comment 16 Feb 2011 by Milo Schield
  7. The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns

    • Constant’s speech flows effortlessly, enumerating the distinctions between ancient and modern conceptions of liberty. Ancient liberty “consisted in exercising collectively, but not directly, several parts of the sovereignty” and “with this collective freedom [came] the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community” (66). Under ancient liberty, “[a]ll private actions were submitted to a severe surveillance” and “[n]o importance was given to individual independence” (66). Modern liberty exists in a system of representative government, rather than direct participation. Modern liberty is “the right to be subjected only to the laws” (66). Constant summaries the key distinction nicely: “[A]mong the ancients the individual, almost always sovereign in public affairs, was a slave in all his private relations” (67). “Among the moderns, on the contrary, the individual, independent in his private life, is, even in the freest of states, sovereign only in appearance” (67). A paradox seems to emerge with respect to ancient and modern liberty. While we want modern liberty, it is still necessary to keep ancient liberty in the background. “The danger of modern liberty is that, absorbed in the enjoyment of our private independence, and in the pursuit of our particular interests, we should surrender our right to share in political power too easily” (70). Constant warns against putting too much faith in authority figures. He pleads that “we must not leave it to them. No matter how touching such a tender commitment may be, let us ask the authorities to keep within their limits. Let them confine themselves to being just. We shall assume the responsibility of being happy for ourselves” (70). It seems that the dangers of modern liberty are very real and present today. Individuals often look for the government to be more than just. The government is regulating personal happiness through various policies that go against liberty. It’s a slippery slope and Constant would call for us to take responsibility.

    • First comment 15 Apr 2011 by Ariel Nerbovig
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Stephanie Myla Helmick
  8. Entrepreneurship and Islam: An Overview

    • Are you aware of English language resources which make apparent the main schools of thought and areas of unresolved discussion in current religious and/or secular debates in Islamic entrepreneurship and/or finance?

    • First comment 31 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 03 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  9. Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology

    • John Quiggin: Thanks for your comment on Pew. You have a good point about the importance of baseline numbers. Unfortunately the Pew survey is unclear as to who its survey respondents are. They indicate that they surveyed the membership of the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science. The AAAS publishes journals, and it includes a large share of academics. Also, its membership includes many outside the hard sciences, specifically in the notorious field of psychology. Hence, the Pew survey isn’t useful as a baseline. I just finished a study in which I actually found a higher rate of D affiliation among hard scientists in elite liberal arts colleges than in the Pew survey, so there is something wrong with it. In fact. some of the past AAAS presidents have been psychologists. A good survey of nonacademic scientists would be a good baseline. When you find one, please let me know. Thanks. ML

    • First comment 02 Oct 2016 by John Quiggin
    • Last comment 17 Oct 2017 by Mitchell_Langbert
  10. Preference Falsification in the Economics Profession

    • When I was a cadet in my senior year, we had to take a class with the senior officer in charge of the ROTC department. One of the concepts that I remember him trying to drive home was that we were preparing to enter a “profession”. At the time it struck me that he was grinding some sense of inadequacy, looking for a word that would make his own career more significant in the way some janitors want to be called “sanitary engineers”. However, two elements of his definition of a profession have remained with me (I’m sure there were more). In the colonel’s definition, a career field was a profession if it had a body of knowledge and an ethical code of conduct. Merely having an expert knowledge of a field made you a technician, not a professional. The ethical code of conduct instructed you on how you were to use your expert knowledge, and provided purpose for professional practice.

      In the quote above, Davis is referring to what the important work of the economics profession is, rather than what is important to be successful in the profession in this particular quote, but in an ideal world, the latter should flow from the former. I believe many people come to the social sciences with a desire to make society better (we may not all agree on what “better” means, but that is a separate issue). The dissatisfaction I read, overtly and between the lines, is that the “profession” of economics, in its pursuit of the air of positive science, has lost its ethical code of conduct and has devolved to a technical career field. The statement, “The economics profession is a bad joke. More and more economists are saying less and less to fewer and fewer people. And they conceal their vacuity in abstruse language and mathematical formulae” (p. 364), strikes at the heart of the loss of a professional ethic in the field. What is the ultimate purpose of economics but ultimately to increase society’s understanding of the economy and thereby guide policymakers to make effective policies? This does not necessarily mean that a lay person should be able to pick up an economics journal whose audience is intended to be professional economists and understand it fully any more than a lay person should be able to pick up a copy of the New England Journal of Medicine and expect to fully understand it. Every profession must have an introspective element that works to extend the professional knowledge, and a means of communicating that new professional knowledge.
      Davis paraphrases respondents who say collectively “The bifurcation of the economics profession into researchers, teachers, and policy-makers has gotten worse and the number of individuals who are respected for contributions in all three areas gotten fewer and farther between” (364). I am not sure this is actually a problem – it sounds like a matter of comparative advantage for the individuals involved. We are after all the field that promotes specialization of labor. The real problem seems to be that the economics field has been overwhelmed by its pursuit of the professional body of knowledge, and in particular a very narrow portion of the body of knowledge as defined by the use of mathematical methodology, and has lost its commitment to the ethic of betterment that defines social science practitioners as professionals rather than as mere technicians.

    • First comment 21 Apr 2010 by Jon Goldstein
    • Last comment 22 Apr 2010 by Shawn Reed
  11. A Life among the Econ, Particularly at UCLA

    • On Bill Allen: One day, when I was an economics graduate student at UCLA, I was waiting for the Bunche Hall elevator. Prof. Allen was waiting as well. I didn’t know him, he had been on leave when I was an undergraduate. Waiting for the elevator, he was friendly and talkative. Afterwards, I asked someone who he was. When they told me he was an economics professor, I was surprised because he had been so friendly and nice!
      I enjoyed listening to the interview, thanks to all involved in putting it together.

    • First comment 08 Sep 2010 by morrie goldman
    • Last comment 17 May 2011 by josil
  12. Individualism: True and False

    • Much of this introductory chapter to Hayek’s 1948 work deserves ample praise: that rationalist epistemology leads to an ever-encroaching desire to design state-imposed solutions; that individualism recognizes that man in a free state will achieve more than is possible laboring under centralized intelligent design; that true individualism is only selfish in the sense that the individual self directs his own affairs, whatever his egoist or altruist intentions; and that equality is a two-sided coin such that pursuing equality of treatment necessitates inequality of results, and vice versa.

      Unlike some other individualist theorists, his attack on state authority and especially its roots in rationalism is made largely on practical terms. He doesn’t say that statism encroaches on man’s “rights” or on moral principles. Rather, he makes the simple observation that individuals should direct their own affairs because they each are aware of the particulars and the intended objective of those affairs. Society at large and bureaucrats as its representatives simply can not know the ends that men seek in their several endeavors and can not devise all the practical means to achieve them.

      Certainly arguing for a liberal social order from a rights-centered perspective (like that of Locke, Rand, or Nozick) has its own pitfalls. But what if the problem is not with Hayek’s airtight reasoning of matching the actor with his wants, but with his presumption that the correct object of analysis is the individual and not society? If the reader believes that social goals are more aspiring than individual goals, Hayek’s arguments could be used against him: just as it is more practical for individuals to know and direct the pursuits of the individual, it is likewise more practical for society to know and direct the pursuits of society. It is not clear that Hayek has established methodological individualism before arguing for political individualism.

      This should not be a difficult proposition. As societies have become less autocratic and more responsive to democratic impulse, they have also become more tailored towards individualistic ends. Post-war rationalist planners (conservative and liberal) emphasize large welfare states to achieve largely individual goals instead of leviathan state actors to achieve collectivist goals. In other words, history is on the side of the methodological individualist. Yet Hayek did not know this in 1948, and should stress that point more.

      What logically follows from this is that rationalist planners would reduce the ends (and the means) of human pursuits to a least common denominator. As Hayek puts it, “The concentration of all decisions in the hands of authority itself produces a state of affairs in which what structure society still possesses is imposed upon it by government and in which individuals have become interchangeable units with no other definite or durable relations to one another than those determined by the all-comprehensive organization.” (p.27) What is lost is individuality and the localized functions of civil society. Even for those who have communitarian or anti-individualist preconceptions, this is a tragic development.

    • First comment 22 Sep 2010 by Tony Quain
    • Last comment 10 May 2013 by Matt
  13. "The Two Faces of Adam Smith"

    • Vernon Smith seeks to solve the Adam Smith problem and reconcile what seem to be two inconsistent views of human nature in Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In Wealth of Nations, Smith’s invisible hand theorem proposes that it is not from benevolence, but rather “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another” which drives our behavior (1776; 1909: 19-20). In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith declares that there are “some principles in… [human] nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it” (1759; 1976: 9). Vernon Smith asserts that these two views are consistent if we recognize a “universal propensity for social exchange” (3). He proposes the following behavioral axiom: ““the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another,” where the objects of trade I will interpret to include not only goods, but also gifts, assistance, and favors out of sympathy, that is, “generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, mutual friendship and esteem” (Smith 1759; 1976, p. 38)” (3). Vernon Smith then proceeds through historical, psychological, and experimental evidence to support this theory. Vernon Smith offers a very convincing and creative solution to the supposed Adam Smith problem. He makes crucial distinctions between reciprocated and non-reciprocated exchange. However, Vernon Smith seems to neglect the importance of non-reciprocated ethical behavior in Adam Smith’s work. Hanley (2010) elaborates on the distinctions between Adam Smith and Vernon Smith. He also points to divergences in opinion on intended beneficence and social vs. unsocial behavior. Vernon Smith asserts that Adam Smith’s explanation of beneficence is “utilitarian” and argues that it arises “from the expectation of reciprocal benefits” (17). This egoistic view of man may not fit neatly into Adam Smith’s conception which encompasses broader views on ethics and virtue.

    • First comment 25 Apr 2011 by Echo Keif
    • Last comment 06 May 2011 by Steve Kunath
  14. Economic Enlightenment Revisited: New Results Again Find Little Relationship Between Education and Economic Enlightenment but Vitiate Prior Evidence of the Left Being Worse

    • I think many of the questions were worded in a way to elicit the wrong response. In a public policy discussion context I think there is an implicit “to a meaningful degree that in any way justifies the cost” modifier to be understood. If you add such a modifier appropriate to each question the answers become understandable. Conversely if you added “to any degree at all” or some such to each question I would guess you would get a different answer. People understand communication in context to make it make sense which results in their adding an impllicit modifier such as I mention.

    • First comment 17 May 2011 by rihir akidan
    • Last comment 28 Apr 2012 by Moshe
  15. The Invisible Hand of Jupiter

    • The main point of Macfie’s article, The Invisible Hand of Jupiter (1971), is to analyze, and attempt to reconcile, Smith’s various uses of the famous, yet mysterious, “invisible hand” metaphor throughout his work.

      The original use of the invisible hand is in Smith’s History of Astronomy, an early essay written by Smith, which was published posthumously. In History of Astronomy, the invisible hand belongs to the Roman god Jupiter, and is used by polytheistic “savages” to explain seemingly irregular natural phenomena that interrupt the status quo (e.g., lightning, thunder). In The Theory of Moral Sentiments (TMS) and Wealth of Nations (WN), the invisible hand, assumed by Macfie, among others, to belong to the Christian Deity, is a mechanism of coordination that guides people’s self-love in order to achieve universal benevolence.

      While the uses of the invisible hand seem contradictory, Macfie contends they are not. He suggests that the use of the invisible hand in History of Astronomy was merely where Smith first coined the phrase, and has no significant bearing on its later use in TMS and WN. Macfie interprets the invisible hand metaphor in TMS and WN to be Smith’s attempt to express “his own view as to the relation between divine guidance, the system of nature, and human behavior”, accordingly becoming the energizer of his entire system of thought (pp.598-99).

      While Macfie’s interpretation may be plausible, there is another way to interpret Smith’s use of his famous metaphor. I believe that Smith used the invisible hand metaphor when talking about things beyond human understanding. In History of Astronomy, the savage ascribes lighting, a natural occurrence that he cannot understand, to the mood swings, and invisible hand of Jupiter. In TMS/WN, Smith employs the same invisible hand metaphor when he talks about markets; in doing so, he suggests that people cannot understand why order emerges spontaneously when people pursue their own ends in free markets, but can merely observe that it does. Perhaps this emergent order in markets can be attributed to a benevolent Deity, but, if the use of the metaphor is consistent with its use in History of Astronomy, Smith argues that the cause of this order is outside the realm of human understanding. With this interpretation of the invisible hand, Smith’s seemingly contradictory uses of the metaphor can indeed be reconciled.

    • First comment 15 Oct 2011 by Pavel Kuchař
    • Last comment 15 Nov 2012 by Francis Conlon
  16. Can ‘Religion’ Enrich ‘Economics’?

    • Hi, T. My wife’s family moved away from Winnipeg, so I haven’t been back for quite a few years now. I enjoyed your article, which makes an interesting pairing with mine for comparison of where we agree and disagree. You make me feel I should read some of Whately’s work.

      I like the idea that the Invisible Hand is evidence of God’s Providence, similar to the wonders of the human body. It is a natural process, to be sure—- but isn’t it wonderful that we live in a world where the Invisible Hand works? It’s a bit like the physicists’ Fine-Tuned Universe. Your article made me realize that William Paley, of Watchmaker fame, wrote a book about “social science” as well as one about natural science. His Evidences of Christianity ( is about arguments from history and sociology, e.g. why were the early Christians so willing to suffer persecution if the Gospels were falsehoods, and why did Christianity spread so much in the world? Economics can try to address those, just as evolution tries to address the Watchmaker, and, indeed, I’d count Rodney Stark as an honorary economist.
    • First comment 30 May 2014 by Eric Rasmusen
    • Last comment 10 Jun 2014 by Nathan W
  17. Education Premiums in Cambodia: Dummy Variables Revisited and Recent Data

    • Thanks for your comment Ronald.

      You give me too much credit. The approach I used was not my technique, but the conventional approach used in the literature.

      As it happens, I agree with you that the conventional approach to reporting education level premiums can be misleading. I’ve made the same point elsewhere. Unfortunately for you and I… if we want to make comparisons with other estimates around the world or through history, then we need to use the same approach as others.

      Perhaps we can help change that convention over time. Good luck to us. But the point of this paper was more modest.

    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Ronald Michener
    • Last comment 30 Oct 2015 by Ronald Michener
  18. Ideology Über Alles? Economics Bloggers on Uber, Lyft, and Other Transportation Network Companies

    • I am and always have been surprised by the “cartel” view of taxis. No one calls the Maine lobster industry a cartel. Yet surely and appropriately it is. The lobster fishery is a common access resource. So, too, are the streets of a city. Part of the income enjoyed by lobster fishermen is a scarcity rent. So, too, is the price of a taxi and a taxi-cab medallion. Cities for many, obvious political-economy reasons are awful at managing common access to the streets. Nonetheless, the social value of Uber is not to lower the price of a taxi, which should be even higher in some cases, but to offer the consumer a more technologically efficient way of delivering the scare good

    • First comment 30 Sep 2015 by Michael Maloney
    • Last comment 24 Oct 2015 by Carl Edman
  19. The Social Science Citation Index: A Black Box—with an Ideological Bias?

    • Hoover Institution publication Policy Review just printed its last issue this month (2/2013). That’s one less conservative SSCI journal cited in the Klein and Chiang article. Will any of the remaining conservative academic journals (such as ANAMNESIS, Academic Questions, First Things or Modern Age) ever obtain SSCI?

    • First comment 01 Nov 2011 by Alex Littlefield
    • Last comment 11 Feb 2013 by Alex Littlefield
  20. Adam Smith and Conservative Economics

    • Here Emma Rothschild examines the various schools of interpretation of Adam Smith’s works that emerged shortly after his death. Specifically, she looks at three incidents where Smith’s ideas were used to support a particular policy or school of thought. Starting with the idea that Smith was, at least in a way, an indirect supporter of the French Revolution movement, she then discusses how an early biographer attempted to fundamentally redefine Smith’s understanding of freedom, Her final example shows how certain philosophers and statesmen in England attempted to confirm their own policies and positions by making reference to Smith and saying that his writings were in line with their policies.

      At this point an individual could justifiably ask what all the fuss is about. Does it really matter if Smith would have been a supporter of the French revolution, labor laws, or any other piece of trivia a historian is trying to suggest is important? They might continue and say that Smith opened up the door to modern economics and it is really not important to immerse oneself into the squabbles of the late 18th century. I answer, however, that it does matter and that Rothschild’s piece allows readers today to better understand the state of the world we now find ourselves in. Generally, when Adam Smith’s name is thrown around it is used to talk about the early development of the free market system and economics. If the average individual, and I daresay the average economist, is pressed to provide more details about who Adam Smith was and what his contributions were, they might make vague references to The Wealth of Nations and then completely skip over the career of Smith or even his earlier work on moral sentiments. The general lack of knowledge about Smith’s corpus or about even the general orientation of his work can lead to contradictory interpretations and is in the end what Rothschild’s essay points to.

      Economists, like individuals in many other fields, operate with many assumptions about how individuals operate. The modern turn has brought in primarily utility or Paretian ideas of maximization. While this move is justifiable at least from the perspective of making problems more tractable it fails to make a strong connection to the ideas of the individual that Smith would have assumed. Smith spilled much ink in the Theory of Moral Sentiments on the motivations and dispositions of the individual. Today there are, just like Rothschild’s examples, different schools of thought within the academy on how to correctly interpret Smith and apply his principles to current problems. The fact that these differences exist must be pointed out and once identified a real discussion must take place to understand what Smith is really saying, whether what Smith has said fits with our current knowledge, and only then can we really come to an understand of what liberty is and how it should be enshrined in our civilization. Rothschild’s essay provides a good first step in that direction.

    • First comment 07 Oct 2010 by Steve Kunath
    • Last comment 19 Oct 2010 by Brian Bedient

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